Public Domain

DITOs final event liveblogging (3): Environmental Monitoring

Here's our final session of our DITOs Final event. You can see the other two here and here, which Muki has reblogged with light edits here and here. Session 3 was mostly a panel discussion, with EC speakers before and after.

This session was kicked off Sven Schade from EC Joint Research Centre. We had the following quotes:

"Citizens should be more involved otherwise we will work on the wrong problems”
“Scientists, politicians and citizens should be able to persuade each other”

There are several apps, such as on birds, nature/invasive species, marine pollution. They are also looking into remote air quality sensing.

The EC aim to promote the wider use of citizen science to complement environmental reporting. The next talk was by Kim de Rijck. She mentioned ten recommendations for environmental monitoring, number eight of which was to support citizen science. She also mentioned streamlining - there are several methods of environmental reporting, and they don't always link up together well. We also have to be aware of data ownership, privacy issues etc. Lessons learned from current practices include: citizen science can underpin environmental policy; it requires government support, making citizen engagement easy, scientific excellence and sustainable business models; NGOs being made key areas - often leaders, often being able to fill knowledge gaps; and that multiple approaches are necessary and a "one size fits all" does not work.

The panel was then called to the table: Kim de Rijck, Izabela Freytag, Sven Schade, Rosa Arias, Gaia Agnello and Alexandra Albert.

Alex is from UCL and has been working in DITOs with us just under a year. She helped coauthor two policy briefs. Gaia works at ECSA and is also with DITOs, especially environmental sustainability, such as the network of European Bioblitzers. Izabela works with the EC on citizen observatories. Rosa is with D-noses, a citizen observatory to monitor odour pollution. Sven and Kim spoke before. Margaret Gold is moderating again.

Margaret asks Sven to set some more context. Sven: We see citizen science happening, great examples, but may still lack outreach in environmental monitoring - geographically and temporally. The panel would be very interested in hearing about policy actions made possible by citizen science.

Rosa points out that we cannot always know what is happening in the impact area, such as in odour pollution. We can only take samples at certain times, then apply models - but this does not give us a picture of citizen experience or real-time nuisance. Gaia emphasises looking at every stage of the project and increasing communication between citizen scientists and policy makers. Izabela has found over many years that co-creation is the best way to make sure you are matching the citizens' needs. Alex points out that in the policy brief on environmental policy suggests that we use certain people as "brokers" or communicators, creating links between more people.

We then asked the audience about forging more links between scientists and the public. Uta points out that citizen science is more than data collection and says that citizen scientists are often extremely passionate. An audience member asks Rosa about her work in Barcelona and low-income areas such as vulnerable communities (e.g. travellers) or those difficult to communicate with: has she done this specifically? Rosa says this is planned within the next few months. In Catalonia there is the second-biggest waste water treatment plant. There is a beautiful spot by the sea with new flats with wealthy owners, while a traveller community has always lived there - the former complain about the odour pollution and the latter do not. The plan is to "address them where they are", i.e. not organise a workshop at the museum, but go to them, and provide them with monitoring tools. There is an invitation for Muslim women to bring their children to the museum for free on Sunday afternoons, however, where they can also pick up environmental monitoring tools and learn how to use them - they are also affected by the odour pollution. It is important to find out when they are most bothered and what can be done for them.

Second question: what citizen science tools can we re-use, which are already successful?

Izabela: this is one reason for funding another CSA (coordinated and support action; DITOs is also a CSA)! It helps projects get together and disseminate their results. A citizen observatory is known to be effective. Gaia emphasises sharing best practices, such as the bioblitz network, which promotes tips for bioblitz running but also lets individual areas and organisations develop their own methods. Sven adds that we do not need one tool and one methodology. Global mosquito monitoring reports (last year) that there may be one method for mosquito collection - but it is important to see what worked in each area and adapt to the local context. "Under which conditions does this work? What critical points should we consider when planning re-use?" There are formal and official structures in environmental monitoring such as with environmental protection agencies.

We also ask the audience the same question. Uta speaks again and asks if it is realistic to expect the same toolbox or method to be used in several different situations. There is guidance showing people the meaning of tools and technology (this is a training element or capacity building). We Observe contains both beginners and experts, but both work in a virtual environment and she hopes it will be transferred to a face-to-face element. Juanma from UPD sees a symbiosis between citizen science and education. He has witnessed teachers using citizen science as part of science teaching and it has been very successful, but there is no formal or strong approach to this. Rosa points out that you must adapt your citizen science to local reality, in this case the teachers/pupils and the academic structure they have. Juanma found teachers would only spend time on citizen science if they got some free time in return! Another audience member points out that community is even more important than the app or whatever tool is being used. For example, Facebook groups may set up project groups because the community is ready. However, Facebook lacks quality control, for example. Groups of citizens may still prefer to use Facebook or something accessible to them rather than a platform developed by someone else. Muki says, regarding toolboxes, that you see the emergence of tools and datasets and software packages which requires the user to know coding to adapt it to what they are doing. In the last three years there have been commercial actors, such as start-ups, whose work may include citizen science (such as Spotteron). NGOs can be great while the project is running, but less after the project ends - funds for a limited time can cause good work to come to an end. Kim points out that you need to monitor for quite some time in order to have an idea of changes, otherwise you don't know what's pollution (for exmaple) and what is nomal. However, NGOs and community of practice may be happy to cease monitoring once they have made their point and are happy to leave it till policies. Muki adds: he was thinking about using a scoping stage of GIS for a citizen scinence project. Sometimes, outliers can make data look wrong - for example, the extreme data showing the thinness of the ozone layer was filtered out as implausible, but was actually correct. So Muki suggests we move away from thinking about one-off events versus continuous monitoring. In some cases, an audience member points out, there is demand eg for weather reports.

Next question: What practical ideas are required by institutions to promote and support citizen science?
Sven: he has a sense that there is willingness to get more organised and create more national strategies and even instructions for what needs doing. He asks the audience if clear instructions on how to move ahead on policy connections would be welcome. Philip Javier (if we heard correctly) from the EC SwafS says sometimes people need precise instructions and others dislike this; this is another way we need to survive with more than one situation. Citizen science is more than one thing - we may need more words, such as the stereotype that communities near the poles have fifty words to describe different types of snow. It is difficult to launch public action of a specific kind or say "this is the quality we want". So we need some structure in the citizen science world - so his question is, does the panel see this emerging? Margaret Gold recalls a mind map of different words used in citizen science! Another audience member recalls "two universes" - one in which 8000 people create maps and workshop and "everything happens". The other is the EC, H2020, universities etc, where the perspective is that little is happening, so we need to build a bridge. EC members are encouraged to join various institutions in order to change the EC. Points out that if we have projects for three years then people are dropped at the end of the three years - this even may involve goodbye e-mails at the wrong time, when one project is imitating another! Another audience member: citizen science can be radical and can contain angry people acting relatively alone, but there is a beauty that "you can just pick up a computer and do something and not have to worry about dissemination and funding". He would like the commission to be funding small things such as a room where citizens can meet - infrastructure. Another audience member: It is a "tragedy of the commons" problem that there is a grassroots movement which puts a lot of data in public - could there not be a practical action such as a button to donate to such organisations and open-source projects? Uta asks what bridge-building has been done and what is missing. Answer: there is arXiv, an open source collection of papers. There should be such a collaboration of institutions with metadata and infrastructure. Intentions alone will not solve this - we need time and resources to create it. He has repeatedly written grant proposals for this, but not successfully so far. Margaret asks: does the panel have any advice on getting success in such a grant for such infrastructure? Would such be possible with our current funding models? The panel is quiet for a while. An audience member highlights "cascading grants" - a pot of money may be given to one project, and some of this may be given to third parties. But the money has to be traced to see what happens to it. You cannot cascade during the lifetime of a project, or give much with a cascade, so they are not long-term. Another: GBIF (Global Biodiversity Information Facility) is supported by different countries and multiple biodiversity projects. Up to what point can we promote something for some other environmental data? Uta points out that the funding structure has to adjust if we are to include co-creation. People volunteer their own time and sometimes money. Technology providers will ask first about the money and will not volunteer their time or products. She points out that we should not expect endless volunteering efforts from the grassroots communities. Audience: Regarding open access, at the commission level we are promoting open science and a European open science club. It should be there for everybody and completely accessible - but this has to pass through projects and have a quality check somewhere. Rosa: a question especially to policymakers. 1992 act: the right of environmental action, justice and decision-making by citizens - they should be able to access and also contribute to and analyse environmental data. This is ratified by all EU countries. She wonders if this could be used as a policy instrument to fund more observatories, databases, communities etc. We are getting paid, but citizen science is a time consuming activity. We should be prepared to meet citizen scientists out of working hours, and perhaps gather some global funding. Shannon Dosemagen from Public Lab: she supports all data going back to the public, feedback loops etc. However, these are situations from which citizens cannot step out of at the end of the project as academics can - they live in affected places. So we need to look at solutions as well as just data. Kim gives a general response: There is a case for sustained funding, but also a frustration with EU funding as it is project-based, limited in time and a little too prescriptive in what the money can be spent on. Meanwhile, there is the possibility of having private partners in the project, and other ways of funding them. Is there a source of sustainable funding this way?

We are at the end of our session, so Margaret leaves us with Kim's question as a means of closing.

Muki returns to the stage for closing remarks.

We saw the DITOs video. He was happy to finish the day with that because a significant thing that happened today was the number of different groups and conversations that happened during the day. He invites Philippe Galiay (who gave several of the audience questions just now) to give us the final talk.

Philippe: Thanks the RBINS museum and DITOs, and Linden for his talk this morning. He feels that DITOs is more than simply a project by this time, and congratulates us on our "enormous" event. (Thank you!) He talks a little about H2020 and their plans for the next few years. He has been particularly struck by the enthusiasm of the participations; he stresses the importance of "building Europe, especially in the current situation" (Alice, who is British and writing this blog, facepalms), and of citizen engagement in science. There is some good news and bad news given in a launch to do with citizen science yesterday. Good: the number of citizen science proposals has multiplied by three in the last year or two! The bad news is that although we have been increasing the budget up to 10 million euros, it will not be sufficient, so success rates will be rather low this year, so many excellent projects will not be funded. The H2020 budget may also have to be reduced next year. It is important we all know this, but to also know there is a big demand for this kind of activity at the European level. It is therefore vital to make the case for citizen science at the European level. An informal council meeting in Bucharest took place this morning, discussing innovation and research policy. Effort to accelerate negotiation is high - we should know the direction of future research and innovation. There are notions involved: "clusters" and partnerships. Also yesterday there was a committee at the European Parliament, which voted positively on the partial agreement on Horizon Europe. Overall, a closer look shows: the basic elements of SWafS and RRI will survive beyond H2020; citizen science will also be found mentioned; there is not great visibility for these in future projects; and the future budget is rather low. The high level narrative in Horizon Europe is favourable to citizen engagement. Inclusion, broad engagement of many stakeholders from public and private organisations, and benefiting all member states is also mentioned. There is also "the engagement of citizens" which will be a powerful article we can keep using. A cluster of key performance indicators is strengthening research in society. Short-term relates to co-creation - commissions will be accountable for how many people they have invited to participate. For the long-term, there will be the uptake of co-created and innovative solutions. This will let us find out how research and innovation outcomes are integrated in society. He advises us all to be prepared to fight for responsible research and innovation. Regarding open science, there is some advice very much in favour of it, and toolkits for policy makers willing to fund citizen science and open science. There would be toolkits for policy makers and practitioners, which would be useful in the future, including for creating a level playing field. Overall, SWafS, citizen science and RRI are doing well, and the latter are getting more visibility outside H2020. There will be more funds for hands-on citizen science research. The situation with Horizon Europe is uncertain, but there is hope. He advises us to mainstream citizen science. We may all be invited to participate in the co-creation of Horizon Europe and how it considers citizen science. We can look up more all about this at the Open Science Policy Platform.

Muki concludes: a huge thank you to Carole and Gaia for organising this event; please help yourself to the free books here (he does not want to carry them back to the UK after all!), we will still have time to work together until the end of May - and thanks to everyone who contributed to the many discussions.

Carole gives the last word of the day: announces cocktails around the dinosaur skeletons and some local jazz artists!

Our apologies for not catching all the names and affiliations of all the audience members, and if we have misspelled any names - we'll be correcting this over the next few hours/days.